Friday, August 03, 2007

Let's pretend we're married

The latest Mad Men focuses it's careful eyes upon the institution of marriage and the carelessness of many of it's participants. Centering in on a birthday party in the suburbs, the series shows it's Sopranos pedigree, using a mundane event to expose the myriad of cracks in what otherwise appears an idyllic suburban life. The episode starts, though, with a shocking (possible) revelation. Does Don Draper even really exist?

As Don commutes to work, he's stopped by a jovial man (named Larry Pierzynski) who's positive that Don is his old war buddy Dick Whitman. Don initially acts surprised, but seems to act the part when Larry insists. Is it simply a case of Don playing along to speed up the exchange, or is the question of who Don is taking a mysterious turn. The fact that he's more prickly then usual when he arrives at work (literally taking on the Dick name) could suggest that he's been found out, or, more likely, it's possible the exchange is just a red herring serving as a metaphor for how Don hasn't really revealed who he truly is to anyone. As Harry chimes in: "Draper? Who knows anything about that guy? Nobody's ever lifted that rock. He could be Batman for all we know."

The irritation Don feels seems directed at the Volkswagen Lemon ad that advertising legend Bill Bernbach created. He says he thinks it's not a good ad, but I think he's more afraid of it then anything else. Bernbach's campaign not only revolutionized the artistic value of ads, but his method of pairing the art director with the copywriter to concept the ads eventually became the de facto method for creative work, which we still see today. Don's a copywriting creative director, which means he's going to have to adapt or get pushed out eventually. (Note when the art director Salvatore chimes in with a tagline idea, Don quickly puts him in his place "stick to the art department.")

Pete is back from his honeymoon, and he's got religion in the form of this thing called marriage. He's surprised at how funny his new wife is, and is tickled that dinner will be on the table when he gets home ("Rib-eye in the pan with butter.... ice cream" he gives his wife as a food order.) Harry, in an effort to get the old misogynistic Pete back, extolls the virtues of flirting, or as he puts it so eloquently "enjoying the company of women in the limited way a married man can." Don's way, one can imagine, is not nearly as limited as Harry's, and he's overt in his flirting with client Rachel in their meeting and later getting a tour of the store. His near infidelity transports us out to the Draper home in the suburbs, as the camera focuses on the cuff links from Rachel he left on his bedside table (specifically for his wife to see, one imagines.)

The birthday party for Don's daughter hints at all their marital problems. My favorite is the playhouse that Don builds for his kids. "It has a red door just like our house, Daddy!" As the Draper kids play in the house, they try to act like they're married as well. "You dented the car." "Don't track mud in the house." "I like sleeping on the sofa." It's these small, often unnoticed, details that make the show so worthwhile to see (I especially loved seeing the old Entiat-Chelan apple box, from near where I grew up.) Don starts out husbandly enough, moving from task to task, but after a several beers and a few cocktails, he drifts further and further away from everyone present. After changing the radio to Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro" (echoing the episode title,) Don moves to a more comfortable distance, behind the lens of a camera. So it wasn't that surprising for him to disappear entirely (on a final errand for the cake,) and instead pass out under the train tracks as they passed heading back into the city where he most likely longs to be.

When Don finally comes back, he pulls off a hail mary play to win his birthday girl's favor, by coming home with a dog. It's a post script "I Love You" to his daughter on a terrible letter, but it works, and naturally it's backed by the song "P.S. I Love You" (by Bobby Vinton? Can't find it to verify.) More like, P.S. I love you when my back is up against the wall.

Previously: Disparate Housewives (Episode 102)

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